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Fairest in All the Land

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Finnian tried very hard not to giggle from his hiding place in the palace garden. For an almost-seven year old, his efforts were quite impressive. However, he didn't have a chance of hiding from Wylie, who, at the age of sixteen, was well on his way to becoming one of the King's favorite huntsmen.

"Gotcha!" Wylie tickled Finnian's ribs, making him double over with laughter.

"Wylie! Stop it, I can't," the rest of his sentence was interrupted with his own laughter.

He let out a delighted shriek as Wylie easily hefted him up by his pale ankles, swinging him back and forth, knowing that he could never drop the tiny prince.

All playfulness vanished the instant Wylie caught sight of the perfect golden coif of the queen approaching. He grabbed Finnian around the waist, set him gently behind a rosebush, and hid the bush from the queen as she passed.

"Majesty," he murmured, sweeping a common bow. He stole a glance at her through his messy chestnut curles. She barely nodded at him as she passed, intent only on the mirror in her hand. Wylie thought she was the most horrible woman he'd ever seen, despite how beautiful she was. The only thing that could hold her attention was her own reflection; all else, including husband and step-son, were for amusing her in the moments she found herself between mirrors.

Once she was out of hearing-range, he turned to Finnian. A rare frown made its way to Wylie's face when he saw how terrified his tiny companion was. Finnian's lips trembled the smallest amount, brown eyes large and overly moist, as he stared into the garden path the queen disappeared down.

Wylie dropped to his knee, not caring how dirty the garden soil made his pants, and wrapped Finnian into a tight hug. He was glad Finnian couldn't see the anger in his face. No one should make such a sweet boy so scared.

"Wylie," Finnian began, "What was my mother like?" The only time Finnian asked about his mother was after seeing the queen.

"She was the most amazing woman I've ever seen," Wylie told him warmly. "Her eyes were the blue of the dark part of the sky at sunset. Even though her voice was soft, every time she spoke everyone would be quiet so they could hear her, it was so beautiful. And she wanted more than anything to have a baby just like you-you were the answer to her deepest wish."

"Really?" Finnian always doubted that.

"Really. Everyone says so. Just ask your Papa." Wylie smoothed the blue-black hair on Finnian's head. He wasn't exactly happy with the King, either. The man did tell Finnian that he loved him, but he was constantly making and breaking promises to spend time with him.

"Your highness! Prince Finnian! Where are you?" A round middle-aged woman yelled from the entrance to the garden.

"You'd better go, or your nurse will be angry with you."

"I know," Finnian drew his brows together in an adult expression that looked ridiculous on the face of a child. "Will you come to my party tomorrow?"

"Don't you want to play with friends your own age tomorrow? Surely you don't want an old hunter there."

"I don't care about them," Finnian said frankly, "I just care about you. Please come?"

"I'll be there no matter what," Wylie assured him. He knew he'd feel horribly out of place, but he wasn't going to deny the prince his birthday wish.

The smile Finnian gave him warmed his heart pleasantly. Then Finnian made an impatient motion for Wylie to bend down and, when he did so, planted a kiss on his cheek.

"Thank you Wylie. I look forward to seeing you." Pale cheeks flushed bright pink.

Then Finnian ran to meet his nurse, who was beginning to sound upset with him.

Wylie smiled to himself before trekking the opposite direction, towards the forest where he lived with his uncle and teacher.

"Uncle! I'm back," Wylie yelled as he opened the door, kicking off his boots as he did so.

"'Bout time, brat," a forty-something grouched from the main room, sharpening his favorite knife.

Garret had been hunting since he was old enough to hold a bow. He'd joined the King's hunters at a young age and had long been a favorite of His Majesty's. His gray eyes, even now, with wrinkles forming at their corners, could still see movement beyond what should be possible and tell what creature happened to be moving there. Wylie was his sister's son, her third, and when she couldn't afford to feed him, Garret had taken the boy in.

He often acted like Wylie was a burden, but lately he forgot how he managed without the teen there to help him. Nimble fingers and quick feet often made themselves useful, especially after several hours in the woods when Garret's own fingers and feet weren't wanting to cooperate. It wouldn't be long before Wylie would be recognized as a favorite of the King. Garret wanted to be jealous, but he couldn't manage it over the pride he felt.

The two had dinner in a comfortable quiet, with no need for conversation between them. When they finished, Wylie took the dishes to wash. He didn't mind, really, washing the dishes and keeping the house clean. They were actions of gratitude, a way for him to express it without the words that would just embarrass his kind uncle.

"Tomorrow I'm going into the forest with the King. Will you join us?"

Wylie looked up quickly, surprise quickly followed by anger. Garret raised an eyebrow at his reaction.

"The King hunts tomorrow? But it's Prince Finnian's birthday! The prince will be so disappointed." He scrubbed with angry energy, gray eyes, much like his uncle's, narrowed in his tanned face.

"Ah," Garret knew Wylie had a soft spot for the young prince, "I'll remind the king before we set out, then. Perhaps he'll delay the hunt." They both knew that was unlikely, considering how much he enjoyed hunting.

Wisely, Wylie refrained from saying anything negative about their king. Both thought that the man should pay more attention to his family than he did, but to say something derogatory was treason. Instead of focusing on his disappointment in his ruler, Wylie wondered if he had anything suitable to wear to a prince's birthday party.

~~~Spiegelein, Spiegelein an der Wand~~~

Queen Ingrid was pleased with her life. She had a gullible husband, an ignorable stepson, and some magical artifacts. What more could a woman want?

When she left the garden, she headed for the home of the Grand Duke. The old man still didn't realize that she went over there nearly every day, and her husband assumed she spent her days in the garden. Fooling them was so easy she couldn't even take any pride in it.

Sneaking in the back door, not caring if servants saw her and knowing they wouldn't recognize her because of the special amulet she wore, she went up the stairs to the office where the Viscount, the handsome young son of the Grand Duke, would be waiting for her. Their tryst had been going on for nearly as long as she'd been in the palace-she'd made love with him before she had with her husband.

The King gave her the power she needed, but his kindly middle-aged appearance clashed with her legendary beauty. Christopher, the viscount, had white-blond hair, a strong face, and an impressive physique. He matched her perfectly.

When she arrived in his office, he was staring moodily through the window overlooking the front of the house, obviously waiting for her visit.

"Guess who?" she covered his eyes with her dainty hands. A pleased laugh escaped her mouth as Christopher turned quickly around and drew her into his arms.

"I missed you," he said solemnly. He was a simple man, always expressing himself plainly. Ingrid had worried about that initially, but once she grew accustomed to it she realized that his simplicity would bind him even more to her.

"I'm sorry I'm late. I had some matters to attend to. We don't want my husband to find out, after all." She petted his arm comfortingly. After that, conversation made itself scarce as the two of them lost themselves in their desires. The window reflected their actions clearly, and Ingrid watched herself as he pounded into her, utterly taken with the way her face looked while locked in passion. Her expression as he finished brought about her own release.

After a few hours, Ingrid had to return to the palace. They littered their farewell with long kisses and refused to keep their hands to themselves. She assured him that she wanted nothing more than to stay; she had to leave to perform her duties as queen.

As always, she was glad to leave.

When she arrived at her home, she headed straight to her rooms to change for dinner and wash away the evidence of her afternoon activities. While she waited for her maids to help her dress, she admired her figure in the mirror. Her long golden hair hid her left breast, but bared its perfect and perfectly identical twin, round and just pliable enough, decorated by the dark nipple. More hair, a couple of shades darker than that on her head, curled at the junction of her thighs. All of her skin was smooth and firm and touchable, and she confirmed this by running her hands over it.

Stepping closer to the mirror, she admired her face. Her eyebrows arched fashionably over dark green eyes. Ripe lips the same color as her nipples expressed only what she wanted them to. Cheeks always bore just the right amount of color.

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?" Even her voice, which lilted or cut at her whim, sounded just as a woman's should.

The mirror's face shimmered like disturbed water. Ingrid's reflection was distorted, but still beautiful.

"You are the fairest in all the land," the mirror intoned in an unearthly voice. Satisfied, Ingrid turned to the door as her maids entered to dress her.

Dinner went as it always did. The small brat sat at his place and didn't speak, the only good thing about him. Her husband sat across from her at the handsome table and smiled at her beauty. From her place at the opposite end of the table, she smiled back and lifted her chin. The food tasted fit for a royal family and the brat's nurse prompted him to eat his vegetables.

After he ignored his green beans for the fifth time, Ingrid spoke up, tired of hearing the common woman's voice.

"Child, do as your nurse tells you and stop being defiant." She made her voice as cold as she could. The first time she'd done that to him, he'd sobbed throughout the rest of the meal. Now, he just looked frightened and did as he was told. This time was no different: his eyes grew round and snapped to her face, he stared at her a few moments with a trembling lip, and then he picked up his fork and began doing as he was told.

"That's a good lad," the king approved. His eyes were still focused on his wife, so he didn't see the way Finnian looked over at him sadly.

When dinner finished, Finnian went up to bed and the king and queen to their offices. Ingrid's office was decorated in soft colors and had mirrors on every wall. She didn't work much, being too distracted by her own reflection. No one minded, and everyone agreed that beauty like hers served the kingdom simply by existing.

The clock struck ten and their Highnesses retired to the large bedroom between their offices. Every night the King made reverent love to the Queen. And every night she hid her sighs of boredom under fake cries of passion, remembering how Christopher held her during the daylight hours. Each drifted to sleep dreaming of Ingrid's face.